Canadian breakthrough in treatment of cancer, infections

January 19th, 2009 - 10:08 am ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Jan 19 (IANS) With current treatments failing to save hundreds of thousands of patients of cancers and infectious diseases around the world, Canadian researchers have found a new mechanism to control these diseases.Led by Andre Veillette of Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM), they claim their breakthrough would have a far-reaching impact on the treatment of cancers and infectious diseases, a release said Sunday.

Explaining their new discovery, Veillette said that in the normal circumstances the body’s immune system produces the so-called “natural killer” (NK) cells which recognize and kill cancer cells and various viruses causing infections like hepatitis and herpes.

This mechanism is called NK cell activity. The researchers discovered that this NK cell activity is deficient in cases of higher incidence of cancers and serious infections.

They found that NK cell deficiency was caused by the absence of a molecule known as CRACC, which is present on the surface of NK cells.

The presence of this molecule increases the “killer function” of NK cells.

The researchers experimented on mice to show how the presence of CRACC molecule greatly improves the animals’ ability to eliminate cancer cells such as melanoma (a skin cancer) and lymphoma (a blood cancer).

But the lack of CRACC molecules, generated in the laboratory, made mice more susceptible to cancer and infections.

On the other hand, stimulation of CRACC molecules greatly improved cancer cell elimination. They found that stimulation of CRACC molecules could boost NK cell activity, thus helping them fight cancers and infections.

The researchers concluded that increasing the activity of CRACC molecules by gene therapy or drugs could become a future tool in the fight against various deadly cancers and infections.

Such therapies or drugs could be used in combination with chemotherapy and radiotherapy to make anti-cancer treatments more effective, the release said.

With scientists around working for years to find methods to increase NK cell activity, the Canadian discovery will fresh hope for patients of cancers and infections.

The findings appeared in the journal Nature Immunology Sunday.

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